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Friday, June 22, 2007

Been away too long...

I've been away too long. When things get too busy on the farm, I don't get much time to just think, let alone type. This has been a busy week, and a week filled with adrenaline. Our weather turned hot, It does this here a couple of times a summer. We hit 84 degrees several times this week.....but we live near the mountains. Actually, we are almost surrounded by mountains. Mountains and heat don't mix, they cause thermal uplifts, which cause thunderclouds to build up, and lightening comes from that. We don't have lightening around here except the rare days of high heat. And where there is lightening and virgin forests of mostly birch and spruce, there is fire. Lots of fires. This time no closer than 25 miles....better than last year when there was one not 2 miles down the road. Tuesday was our day to bale our north hayfield. It was the 2 of us to start, soon another man showed up to help, then another. I was relieved of duties to continue the farm chores. I was happy to get out of the open field, and worried about those left on the haywagon to stack the winter hay. You see, another person showed up to warn us to get out of the field, rain was coming, but they'd just flashed an emergency report on the TV to take cover....there was a level 8 storm headed our way. What? Here?? We've seen those things on TV ourselves, except in some state in the lower-48... not here. Watching the sky, I could see an upside down triangle. I grew up at the end of Tornado Alley, and that cloud approaching our hayfield looked too familiar. I worried. In the end, we were very lucky...the storm split and went east and west of us, only a spit of rain on the last of the hay to be baled, and the men finished up and only 100 bales were counted from a field that normally produces 200-300 bales. We also figured out that this hay cost us $1200, unless of course by some miracle we get that once in ten year 2nd cutting. With no rain for over 5 weeks, it's all we could take from the field. We got to bed before midnight, our last good night's sleep of the week. The cattle and horses are now grazing it for the next few weeks... fertilizing as they go, eating lots of good food and cleaning up the debris left behind.

The next night the storms built up over the mountains again. This time there was no triangle, but I knew we were in trouble when the sheep were all bedded down early in the shed. Just after midnight it let loose. Remember, it's the longest day of the year tomorrow so we have plenty of daylight late into the night...the storm hit. More lightening, more thunder, this time hail and a brief heavy downpour. The lightening kept going...and going... and going. I had to stay up, I was too worried what the storm was doing, so I sat up and watched. It went on longer than any lightening storm I can remember up here in 26 years of living in Alaska.

By morning, news of the fire 25 miles north came via the phone. Too many friends serve on the fire crews and such not to have known about it right away. It started at Deshka Landing and had burned 350 acres. I was informed he'd be coming home to get the water tanker out so I could get it filled, just in case. There was no real effort to put it out, only to keep it away from things owned. Funny. Our forestry fire fighters are a bunch of idiots, at least that is what everyone here is beginning to believe. They'd said the same thing about the Miller's Reach Fire that nearly ended up burning Wasilla to the ground in the late 90's, it came too close, it was too far out of control. So is this fire now. Over 9700 acres have burned and no stop in sight.

This morning we woke up to still air and thick yellow smoke. So thick, when I first looked out the window I thought it was fog. But it was the wrong color for fog. I had a slight headache, and my nose was all stuffed up. Rick got up and felt the same way. We have a window fan in our bedroom that blows fresh air in all night had blown in the putrid smoke instead. I stuck my head out the door and took a good wiff...then chills went down my spine. I turned on the news and turned on my computer to see where it was coming from and if there was yet another fire even closer to home. The winds had changed enough to bring us the smoke from the fire 250 miles south of us, the Caribou Hills fire on the Kenai Peninsula. It started as a small fire too. Now it's burned over 20,000 acres and still growing.

There are many fires now burning in Alaska... every summer, forest fires start from the thunderstorms more common in the 'interior' and on the Kenai Peninsula. When you wake to the smell and thick smoke, it causes your mind to flash back to other fires of the past. I know the animals didn't like it this morning. They were very very quiet. I wonder what they are thinking too. The sheep did not call to me as loudly as they usually do, they weren't pacing and dancing all over the place looking for their breakfast. They were indeed hungry and let me know, just in case I should ever forget I suppose, but they too were just a bit worried. I fed them well today, a little extra hay to help calm their nerves if indeed they were as nervous as I. You can not eliminate the natural fears that you are born with, nor those that you learn along life's journeys, you can only deal with them the best you know how. I can not make my sheep deny their natural fears but I can do my best to keep them calm and hay is always good for that. A call to a few friends made my morning better, and by afternoon new winds had come up and blown the smoke away leaving fresh air once again. The smoke is still pouring into the sky somewhere, and for now it's not here so it's time to get things done while it's still comfortable outside to do them.

We have another hayfield down, waiting for enough dry weather to bale it and put it in the barn. The weather forecasters say we are to finally get rains again starting tomorrow...too soon for putting up the hay that's almost but not quite dry enough. I can wish that the rain doesn't come, afterall we've been without it for 5 weeks now, but then when I think of the smell of this mornings smoke, and how everything here is still a tinder box waiting for an accident to happen, I will not cry if it rains tomorrow.

All week long, dealing with hay and fires....been away too long.


Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

Another wonderful post that makes me feel like one of your friends, because you share so well what you are feeling and dealing with.

I've got my two "little travellers" home and they are still healthy, praise the Lord! Very skittish, though; I do hope they tame down. Much of the joy of my Shetlands is that they are all pets, so these two need to be as well. The ram, of course, will need to be a very respectful pet.... :-)

Kathy L. said...

We live at 7,000 ft. elevation in the mountains of Arizona. Our growing season is the same as Anchorage and are smack-dab in the middle of the world's largest stand of Ponderosa pines. I can so understand exactly what you are talking about! This past weekend saw three wildfires around us but they were able to contain them very quickly.
Most people think of AZ as all desert, but our winters last from mid-late September through until our last frost in June. And in the summer we go to bed with the covers off, but it's 45 F by morning, so then we're pulling them right back up again. Usually we have a 40 degree swing between day and night temps. Your post struck home in more ways than one: When we moved here from the midwest, we, too thought the tornadoes were following us as we had one near us within five years of moving here...and we also need rain desperately, but also get the lightening caused fires - storms that are a mixed blessing. I guess I just wanted you to know that I understand what you're going through. :)
And I love reading your posts...keep 'em coming!

PS: My DH's grandfather was the mayor of Cordova long ago...(I know that's a ways from you) :)